Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Notes: Walk the Line

It's probably impossible to make one of these bio films and have the final product not feel a little bit formulaic- not only do the films generally follow the typical 3-act story arc, but every scene has to be a vital moment in the person's life. The final result is that you see a singer sitting around and writing his songs, or a politician practicing his speeches in front of a mirror, but not a lot of those moments in their life that weren't vital. We don't get a feeling for who the person was so much as what big things they did.

Walk the Line has the same problem in this respect. When we see Johnny Cash glance at a boy shining shoes while he walks down the street, there's no wonder that he will sing about a shoe shine boy a few scenes later. When June Carter tells him that he had better get sobered up and "walk the line", we know exactly what's coming next... Not only does the film feel formulaic, but it feels like the writers and filmmakers didn't try very hard to get past the limitations of the genre.

Which is a shame because Reece Witherspoon, that human transliteration of a Betty Boop cartoon, is fantastic here as June Carter Cash, and the original Johnny Cash songs are as heartfelt and genuine as ever. In fact, there's a disconnect between the filmmaking, which feels rushed and mechanical, and the music, which burns like a shot of Jack Daniel's whiskey going down... still.

Johnny Cash deserved something better than this. Juaqin Phoenix has his stance and stare down, but mistakes stumbling and mumbling for acting. The worst sin; he's boring. Walk the Line isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it's tepid. Cash's intensely-felt Christianity has been largely left out, and his parents have been made into one-note stock "Southern" characters- the father is drunk and abusive and mom won't stop singing hymnals! Instead, the focus is on his drug abuse, which was important, but one gets the feeling that this was the only aspect of the story that the filmmakers had any genuine feeling for. Drug movies follow the same 'redemption' storyline that, in this case, further mechanizes things. Every little thing in Act 1 pushes the main character to the drug abuse in Act 2, which is finally resolved in Act 3. This is movie-of-the-week stuff.


The Pagan Temple said...

That's really too bad. It's understandable, though. Johnny Cash has become so mythologized, so much a legend, even while alive, it would be hard to find an all around balanced view of his personal life that wasn't already known, and even those things that are known are open to interpretation.

Another thing, if they had done a comprehensive, in depth movie, it would probably have offended a great many of Johnny Cash lovers, and the filmmakers doubtless wanted to avoid that, out of the misguided notion that they would be offending their main target audience.

You're right, Cash did deserve better than that. This is one reason why I don't care much for autobiographical movies. The less amount of time the person has been dead, the less likely the kid gloves are likely to come off, especially with a figure this revered.

Rufus said...

I didn't really mind the drug stuff. I think they were pretty honest about that. But, the other side of him was the devout Baptist Christianity, which made him fascinating. He was a saint and a sinner. But, it's like the movie didn't have the depth or complexity of the man himself, and it's all right there in his music. So, I was a bit let down. Oh well.